Cover Letters: Media, Communication, Arts & Entertainment

By: Michael Elias, Media, Communication, Arts & Entertainment Career Community Advisor

The idea of customizing a cover letter to each individual position you apply to can feel like a daunting task, particularly if you want to cast a wide net and apply to multiple roles.

For students with an interest in Media, Communication, Arts & Entertainment, cover letter writing can feel especially tedious when, more often than not, a portfolio or demo reel is also required. Your resume highlights your career history, the portfolio/reel provides concrete evidence of your work, and the cover letter can be a space to fill in any relevant gaps that those materials don’t convey.

Advertising, Public Relations, and Digital Marketing

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Professionals in these industries are going to expect some level of creativity in applicant cover letters, even if you’re not applying for copywriting roles. One of the best ways to do this is by grabbing their attention in your opening paragraph, ideally by telling a story. This story might express your enthusiasm for the specific company, highlight relevant skills, and/or emphasize your passion for a relevant cause.

If you’re stuck, review some of the campaigns that firm or agency has developed. Do any of them inspire you? Does your individual writing style match theirs? Are there specific values evident in these campaigns that align with what you want to convey in your work? Any of these can be a strong starting point to tell a relevant story and make a direct connection to the company.

Arts and Arts Administration

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For students seeking opportunities in graphic, photography, and/or studio arts, your creative portfolio will do much of the heavy lifting. Your cover letter, then, can be used to make a case for how your aesthetic sensibility aligns with the studio you’re applying to, and/or what inspires you about the work being done by that particular artist. Behavioral attributes, such as the ability to provide and receive constructive criticism, are worth mentioning as well, particularly if you can provide an example of how you’ve demonstrated these in the past.

If you’re looking to break into arts administration, your task is two-fold.

  1. Make sure you are speaking to relevant attributes outlined in the job description, which may range from advocacy for the arts to building relationships with patrons to event planning to writing funding proposals.
  2. Genuinely and enthusiastically express your passion for the organization you’re applying to. If it’s a children’s museum, talk about your interest in kid-friendly content; if it’s a gallery that specializes in, say, sculpting, describe your passion for the art form. Additional tips and skills for arts cover letters can be found in this post from BalanceCareers.com.

Entertainment and Production

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The entertainment industry can be broadly defined as anything from film/television to music to sports to digital programming. Whether your interests lie in working with a film festival or a music label, you’ll want to spend some time talking about your passion for the projects being produced by these organizations. If there’s an opening with the Chicago Underground Film Festival, express your passion for experimental cinema. If a music label specializes in punk rock, don’t waste time discussing your interest in other genres like country or opera; be sure you’re relating to their unique specialization.

For production roles, the good news is that you can generally keep these short and sweet. Unless you’re applying for a full-time position, many production jobs are going to be temporary or contract-based, and the people who hire for them generally need talent ASAP. After (briefly) summarizing your skills and expertise, use the cover letter to explicitly outline your dates of availability and other practical requirements, such as access to a car, relevant film equipment, etc. These are competitive positions, but a strong demo reel won’t compensate for your inability to arrive on set at the drop of a hat.

Journalism and Publishing

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For many journalism students, strong writing and the ability to tell a story will come naturally and serve them well in cover letter writing. What you don’t want to do is get too long-winded, which can be a challenge when you’ve been trained to write in a particular way. While hiring managers will definitely want to assess your written communication skills, let your writing samples do the heavy lifting here; keep the cover letter short and to the point. For broadcast students, it’s important to demonstrate that you are a visual storyteller and the various platforms you have experience with. Your reels will communicate many of the skills employers are looking for here, but if your samples only emphasize one broadcast medium (e.g. podcasts), use the cover letter to talk about other relevant production skills (e.g. videos, blogs) and other relevant media you may have experience with.

If your interest is in the publishing industry, you’ll find that many of the same tips for arts administration professionals apply here. Specifically, roles in the publishing field may include editing and writing, but also span everything from sales to marketing to legal to accounting. Make sure that you’re highlighting experiences that are directly related to that individual position. If you have a particular passion for the output of the company (be it a publishing house, literary journal, trade publication, etc.), be sure to talk about this, as well.

Conclusion

The above strategies provide insight into industry-specific cover letter tips, but it’s important to be aware of the appropriate structure and format needed for these documents. If you’re writing your first cover letter (or just need a refresher), this online guide provides a great template. Afterward, stop by the Career Center to take advantage of our drop-in resume and cover letter advising service; we’ll help you to become more prepared and confident to take the next step in the application process.

Marketing Your Service Experiences to Potential Employers

By: Mackenzie Canfield, DePaul University English and sociology major ’17 and peer career advisor

For many of us, service is a critical part of our experiences as DePaul students. It’s an opportunity to not only engage with various Chicago communities, but also build lasting, impactful relationships with individuals outside of our immediate DePaul networks. However, as it comes time to apply for internships and full-time positions, it is often hard to envision how these service experiences play into our professional goals.

While the context is different, many of the skills developed through your time spent volunteering are transferable, and therefore marketable to a potential employer. These are skills that will stand out on your resume and cover letter, highlighting who you are as an internship or job candidate.

Skill Identification

First, ask yourself, how do I engage with the communities I’m working with during my service experiences? Often times, the initial response is, I help students in Back of the Yards with their homework, or, I play games with residents at a Garfield Park senior center. While these responses are certainly true, in order to best market service experiences to a potential employer we’ll have to dig a little deeper to pull out the more valuable and unique skillsets being utilized.

Let’s work with the first example of tutoring students in Back of the Yards. Tutoring, as a skill, may be marketable for some professional positions, however, if you’re pursuing accounting, marketing, health sciences, or any other number of fields, it might be less important. Tutoring does not have to be the skill we focus on, though. Let’s think: What else does tutoring students in Back of the Yards involve? It involves listening to students’ stories in order to best help them, supporting full-time staff by continuing to live out the mission of the school or organization, as well as initiating and planning different events for the students based on what they—and the community members—need.

Listening, supporting, initiating, and planning. Those are four skills that an employer within any industry would like to see displayed on your resume or cover letter. Additionally, they will take note of the fact that you were intentional of the skills you mentioned and that you took the time to think of your experiences in the context of the position you’re applying for.

To work on further identifying the skills you’ve used and developed through your service experiences, consider these common transferable skills utilized within volunteering contexts:

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Skill Communication

Now that you’ve identified the transferable skills used in your service experiences, the next step is thinking about how to communicate those to an employer in your application documents.

In terms of your resume, your service experience probably best fits under “Additional Experience” or “Volunteering Experience,” depending on how you’ve organized your resume. Regardless, we will communicate the transferable skills we’ve just identified through descriptive bullet points listed underneath the volunteering experience.

You’ll begin each bullet point with one of the transferable skills you’ve identified. This can be thought of as what you did. From there, you’ll want to add detail to the bullet point so it also includes how you did it, as well as why you did it. This way, the potential employer will best understand your skills and experiences.

With formatting, here is how our tutoring in the Back of the Yards example might end up looking:

Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School, Chicago, IL — Sept. 2015 – Present

Volunteer Tutor

  • Listen to students during tutoring sessions in order to develop lesson plans and activities that best engage them as they prepare to apply for colleges
  • Support full-time teachers and staff by providing supplemental instruction and one-on-one advising to students with low attendance records
  • Initiate and plan school-wide events and open dialogues that allow students to identify and solve issues within their Back of the Yards community

When thinking about your cover letter, if you’ve had one or more internships, completed a long-term research project, or studied abroad through a relevant program, it is very possible that you might not mention your service experience. However, if you’re looking for a way to demonstrate relevant skills in one of your cover letter’s body paragraphs, a consistent volunteering experience is a great opportunity to do that.

First, take a look at and highlight the skills being mentioned in the job description. Then, ask yourself, how have I demonstrated these skills through my service experiences? Your answer will most likely connect back to some of the ideas displayed through the bullet points in your resume, however we want to remember that your cover letter is a chance to say more than what’s on your resume. So, rather than just filling a body paragraph with the same skills mentioned in your bullet points, go into greater detail about one or two of those bullet points, thus further focusing on specific skills the employer is looking for.

Volunteering with different communities can be experiences that end up defining us, and how we live our lives. However, it’s common that we instinctively separate our service from our professional development. This doesn’t have to be the case. By considering the transferable skills we develop within service, we can best market them to potential employers.

The Cover Letter Conundrum

Every student I have advised over the years has presented a unique set a questions pertaining to the job search. But, there’s one topic that seems to confound even the most seasoned applicant: cover letters.

A significant number of applications require a cover letter, yet there’s so much anxiety around how to craft one. In fact, students will admit that they simply won’t apply to any position that asks to see one. Just think of all the missed opportunities.

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The main reason cover letters seem so daunting is because they should be tailored to each position. Unlike a resume—which you might tweak here or there for individual applications—your cover letter should be very specific to each job, as employers use it to get a greater sense of why you’re passionate about their company specifically and the role they’re hiring for.

The process of crafting a new cover letter for each application can seem tedious or time consuming, but there are a few tips you can take advantage of to make this process easier while also meeting the expectations of your potential future employer.

Structure

Unless an employer asks you to format your cover letter in a very specific way, the structure of your letter can remain the same for 95% of the positions you apply for. Think of structuring your cover letter as you might structure a paper for class: one introductory paragraph, two or three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.

Your introduction and conclusion will stay fairly consistent across the board. The introduction should include the specific position title and company you’re applying to, and the conclusion should restate your enthusiasm for the position and highlight your contact information. You might want to make little tweaks, particularly in the introduction, such as highlighting how you found the position and clarifying why you’re interested right off the bat, but these are easy updates that shouldn’t take too much time to complete.

Buzz Words

The body paragraphs are where you want to make the most changes for each position you apply to. Use language from the job description—often referred to as “buzz words”—and incorporate them throughout your cover letter. The biggest mistake applicants make in their cover letters is simply rehashing content that’s already on the resume, when the focus should be on highlighting how the skills from your resume specifically relate to the position you’re applying to.

A smart way to begin a body paragraph is some variation of the following:

“In reviewing the job description, I understand that this position requires an applicant with skills in _____, _____, and ______.”

Fill in the blanks with buzz words from the job description that you are a match with. Doing so will let the employer know right off the bat that you understand a few of the key components of the role. This will also help highlight how your past experiences directly relate to the requirements of the position.

More good news: you can use a variation of the sentence above in each of your cover letters, and simply fill-in-the-blanks with buzz words that are unique to each specific position you apply to. This is a great way to personalize each of your cover letters without having to completely rewrite each one.

Company Website

While it’s always a good idea to research a company before applying, it can be especially helpful in gaining additional insight that you can incorporate into a cover letter. Information that might not be evident in a job description—such as a company’s mission, values, goals, client base, and office culture—can often be found by reviewing the company’s website. If, for example, you find that your career values are a direct match with an individual company, mention this in your cover letter. This is a smart way to highlight that you would be a great fit beyond your skill set, and employers will appreciate that you went above and beyond the job description to learn more about them.

The company website can also come in handy in the absence of “buzz words.” Some job descriptions you come across may be slim and not provide enough information about the responsibilities and qualifications needed. If the position description is bare, focus on what you learned from the company website to personalize your cover letter.

Next Steps

Take a look at some cover letter templates curated by the Career Center’s Peer Advising Team. This packet includes cover letter samples, as well as samples of other job search letters such as thank you notes. Once you’ve drafted a cover letter, bring it to the Career Center for a walk-in advising appointment to get it touched up before sending it off to employers!